Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Henrietta Murphy

If you can’t tell a story straight, show how
what happens follows a true labyrinth
without a thread or any way to know
where you have come from, or why. The background,
backwater flood tide, Bobby St. Clair–style.

Earlene’s mama took sick, cancer, and her papa
–two familiars she spoke lovingly–
had cancer already, its final stage
bursting in its Venus fly trap flower
eating him alive. She had to go home.

To say Bobby missed her is a grim joke.
What’s worse is she’s never returning here.
And he’s not going to live in Monroe,
Louisiana. His heart is broken
when he turns twenty one in Seattle.

He started walking all the way downtown
and talking to whomever would listen.
Clark introduced him to this girl, Cathleen,
who pulled straight As and partied all weekend.
Bobby moved to a Lake Union houseboat.

Sure, he paid more for such grand-style quarters,
but he was in love, and what would he do,
what did he do now, once Earlene was gone
but write out his heart on a typewriter,
throwing away as much as he would keep.

He was gone from the apartment Connie
once kept him sleeping after fucking night
into day. She had other lovers now:
Jim said he told her Bobby was in love,
and Connie told Jim she was happy too.

Clark, the dapper flaneur of Seattle,
urged Bobby to show up at his party
on Capitol Hill to meet this poet
from Spokane, seventeen and already
published, writing poetry for Roethke.

Who? Bobby asked. Roethke, this great poet,
Cathleen can tell you. Who was a beauty.
She left the party early to go home
with Bobby, her first night on a houseboat,
waking naked, her olive skin glowing.

Her eighteenth birthday was a month away.
Bobby said, Stay. Cathleen said, I’d love to.
Clark came to visit to see what there was.
Cathleen loved Bobby at first sight, and he
loved her with a passion he never knew

possible. Cathleen kept him home. She loved
this lad with Celtic ways equal to hers.
When he loved her he lost himself in her.
He worked at home. She learned to feel the house
moving like their bodies when the lake swelled.

Earlene kept writing. Roderick missed him,
and so did she. Maybe he could come down
somehow. She would work. He could write poems
and stories in a home with warm weather.
She had never missed any man so much.

He wrote to tell her the truth. That was all.
He hated the way he had treated her.
He loathed himself. Cathleen was gone all day.
He walked downtown. He walked downhill, uphill,
came home, and one night Cathleen was not there.

Clark told him she had gone back to Spokane,
a summer job in a bakery there.
Bobby had met her friend Elizabeth,
who now held his hand, pulled him close but no
farther. The summer passed. Bobby wrote on

tables, drinking coffee, cup after cup,
and friends of his father told him stories
of his mother. Nothing personal now,
but your father took you away from her,
her only child. She turned wild, went crazy.

She was out drinking and died in a car
smashed on the tracks trying to beat a train.
What was her name? Henrietta Murphy.
What did she look like? She was beautiful.
Red hair. Long legs. Insatiable with men.

One of his father’s friends had a photo
that became his to place on a table
and find the words for what he was seeing,
then taking it with him to ask the friends
if the words he wrote down even came close.

They told him the truth. Henrietta changed
overnight once Bobby was lost to her.
No one knew why St. Clair needed Bobby;
he had no right to keep him for his own.
He had his reasons but they died with him.

Bobby carried her photo everywhere,
sitting over coffee, rarely eating,
forgetting to sleep, he had to find her
with words that kept slipping away from him
until Clark found him weeping, whispering.

(1 February 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

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